The Big Summer Trip

Otherwise known as the Big Summer Trip that Never Was. Just didn’t pan out, what with being unemployed and gas prices topping over $4.50. It being fall, seems like this summer’s trip probably won’t happen. I’ve been keeping notes, and we sure had some big plans. Mighty big plans…

View Planned Route

  1. Emperor Norton’s grave in Colma, for good luck
  2. Pick up Sigma 10-20mm lens from in San Mateo
  3. Winchester Mystery House
  4. visit Jenna in Monterey
  5. Forestiere Underground Gardens in Fresno
  6. Amargosa Opera House
  7. Airplane graveyards of the Mojave
  8. The Museum of Jurassic Technology
  9. Homepie in Palm Springs
    • abandoned water park on Edom Hill
    • my old house, high school, Desert Memorial Cemetery, other nostalgia
    • old friend Angela Kinley (if I can find her)
  10. Desert Center CA, with Llamas and palm tree geometry
  11. shore of the Salton Sea
  12. Salvation Mountain
  13. Mexico! Because we can!
  14. Cabazon Dinosaurs (on way back)

Sigh. Maybe in a better year I’ll come and visit this little post o’ mine and negotiate my way back to an awesome trip. It’s not as we’ve never pulled this sorta thing off before. Better luck next time.

Hugo Winterhalter Goes Digital

I think I have good taste. In epic thrift store excavations, I’ve gone through hundreds of used records—probably thousands. More than I wanna think about it. There are a lot of bad ones. Mostly, one hopes that one may find something funny to share with one’s friends. Old stuff is weird (admit it). But oh, there are some gems, and usually they don’t fall out of the cracked wooden bin and yell “I’m worth buying off Ebay for $50! Here I am for ¢50!” It takes a trained eye to efficiently sift through the absolute junk at most places.

Or a trained ear. Finding an incredible record has a lot to do with knowing what you like in the first place—although for those wanting to take up the hobby, it’s perfectly reasonable to make it up as you go along. A good place to start? By all means, judge by their covers. Me, I happen to know that I like gypsy music. I pick up many records simply because they contain in their titles one of these: Gypsy, Roma, klezmer, or Bulgaria. In general I also recommend looking out for: home recording, demonstration, spectacular, incredible, “_____ and the [word intensifier]s,” Moog, olde tyme, fart, and dinosaur. It’s a wide net, a rough algorithm, but it get’s results.

Which is what brings me back to “gem.” I got one. I wasn’t able to actually play it until I found a new record player on the street (thank you, city of cannibals). Even after I discovered its magnificence I didn’t pick up the phone on the ol’ Share-The-Love hotline until a roommate suggested it. And then I had to fiddle with knobs and buttons and wires and other esoteric equipment, only to discover that no matter what I did, the digital transfers just didn’t measure up to my high standards. I’m a wizard with audio software… but there’s no way to get pristine audio from salvaged parts. Get what you pay for, I guess.

But wait, what was this musical masterpiece, I hear you say? Let’s listen to the first track:

Even through my peasant’s needle, you can hear the tambourine sparkle… the horns shimmer… the tubas thump… the piano tinkle… the flutes shriek. It’s exciting! It’s powerful! We’ve heard this song before, but not like this. Easy listening and exotica both seem to apply, but can’t measure the appeal of the real nifty fifties, big bang band, swank-ocracy. Mostly the album is made up of low-key low-tempo stuff, soothing music that might be played without irony on KWXY, which might very well bore you. The poppy ones sure do pop though. On all of them, the arrangement is top-notch and the production values are beyond reproach.

This makes sense considering that the arranger was none other than Hugo Winterhalter, musical director at RCA for more than a decade. This album is dated 1960. For the time, I’m sure, it was somewhat standard. It’s a formula: take a bunch of songs people know, ones that you can tie together with a theme, write them for ensemble, make it modern and “now!”; you have yourself an easy sell. It’s a formula, and it worked. Still does.

Some say stuff like this is more craftsmanship that artistry. It’s the carpenter’s work, not the sculptor’s. I had a music teacher who made the same comparison between Bach and Mozart. He said that while Mozart was a genius, transcended forms and gave the world beautiful music heard neither before nor since (etc., etc.), Bach was simply working within established convention—and when you wanted a fugue, he made the best. They were differently brilliant. Both men became immortal through their music. If you’re like me, though, you have to respect Bach a little bit more. It’s a clever mind that can conjure immortality working with someone else’s rules. I’m thinking that Mr. Winterhalter was a Bach fan.

Now I’m getting a little antsy thinking about how poor my equipment is, and how enjoyable some of the actual songs are, and how there’s hardly any CDs of Winterhalter available, and how it might be up to me to handle this guy’s continued existence. Then I remember the long tail, realize I’ve been praising the guy for seven paragraphs, and things are probably gonna be ok. I’m hesitant about uploading the good stuff (hand-restored LAME V2 mp3s) because I understand perfection, and I understand pragmatism, and I understand that they aren’t the best of friends. Let it be known across the land that I sadly consider these songs as “orphan works,” and hereby claim stewardship of them until someone better steps up. For goodness’ sake, even if you have a better record player step up. Here are the songs from “Hugo Winterhalter Goes… Gypsy!” that will thank you if you do:

  1. Hungarian Dance No. 5 (2:53)
  2. The Back of Her Head (3:08)
  3. Hora Staccato (3:12)
  4. Golden Earrings (3:46)
  5. When a Gypsy Makes his Violin Cry (3:08)
  6. Francesca (3:17)
  7. Csárdás (4:32)
  8. Zigeuner (3:16)
  9. Gypsy Don’t You Cry (3:53)
  10. Gypsy Love Song (2:58)

Total playing time – 34:05

Without further ado, I give you the imperfect recording of my favorite thrift store record in the past year:

Front Cover, Hugo Winterhalter Goes GypsyHugo Winterhalter Goes Gypsy (full album, direct download)

2 image files (front & back cover), 10 mp3 audio files,
LAME 3.97 codec at V2 quality, 50.1 MB

Showing One’s Backend

I’m just trying to prove it’s a labor of love. For the record, no, it doesn’t make sense to do this custom CSS work when no one but me will ever work with it. Pleasure isn’t always sensible.

Considering the current financial climate, both personal and national, I feel forced to justify the frittering waste of several hours of time that is updating one’s admin screen. So here goes (prepare for long sentence): it’s an exercise of skill which not only keeps the mind sharp, provides a small bit of accomplishment, and is something to show off, but reasserts and reminds me every time I login of my personal sense of style, a style which is particularly energizing and, well, awesome. I like it. Do you?

The Curse of the Unseeing i

It’s a great modern fallacy to think that not everyone is a futurist.

Please consider this: if you’re living and breathing, here on this earth, it’s fair to say you need to figure out where you’re sleeping tonight. And beyond that, you ought to know what your going to do for food and water, and what you’ll do for it tomorrow, right? Then the next day. Then the next. There’s mutual funds, 401Ks, mortgages, all the way through burial insurance—and if you have them, you have them on account that you think you know something about the future. If so, you’re a futurist—predicting the unpredictable for your own well-being. Nothing special. The people we might call “futurists” are just the ones who go a little further, who get a little creative, who think up the amazing stuff that makes things seem weird and different.

Futurists like the iPhone (those that think of such things). That new one coming out tomorrow I mean,the one with location-sensing GPS built into it. That’s a wishlist biggie. With an iPhone you can reasonably take the web’s mountain of available knowledge anywhere. Mohammad doesn’t need to go to the mountain; the mountain can come with him (in convenient molehill size). To follow the metaphor… if it shall come to him, the mountain must know where he is. That’s the location-sensing, location-aware internet: it comes to you. Near a grocery store, and one’s grocery list will pop up. Outside a restaurant, the restaurant reviews magically appear. We’re allowed to dream crazy dreams that might happen one day… picture something like network-enabled telepathy: normal people walking down the street, transmitting data of them walking down the street, to others walking just around the corner, and suddenly everybody can see around all the corners and we get something like a real-time GoogleMaps Street View. Techno-clairvoyance, it could be. Someday perhaps a new Transparency will replace the role of stodgy old button-up Security, light shining over dark forever and for good. These are things I have heard dreamt of.

Apparently, I’m the only futurist who rides public transit. It seems odd that few analysts seems to have analyzed thusly, but iPods have always seemed a little… alienating. The earbuds double as earplugs. Have you ever been privileged as captive audience to a stranger’s lengthy phone conversation? Perhaps chose to cloister yourself away from them and escape into your own idiosyncratic cinematic push-button music-video reality? No difference, you and them. You’re each off in your own little world. Personally, I know that if I got an iPhone I’d use it on the bus, I’d read blogs waiting in line, I’d Twitter my daily thought quotient till I’d overthunk it all. I would fill in every idle moment and be wholly absorbed (O, Little world! I claim thee as mine own!). However, the world-at-large doesn’t stop being magical or fascinating or often banal because we’ve stopped participating. When we escape from it we’re usually still aware it exists, but as a goldfish is aware—largely unseeing of its aquarium walls, happily swimming and forgetting. Maybe there’s our Transparency with a capital T: “welcome to the future: your own private fishbowl.”

The Wise Iphone MonkeysSuch mobile devices can complete a triangle: a phone to speak with, music to hear with, and the internet to see with. Somewhere nearby are three wise monkeys avoiding those “evils”. Don’t mistake them as tools of devils, though, as they’re only a human tool—something far more dangerous and wonderful. The problem is that we are neither devils nor angels. Lots of heirloom Utopianism from the 19th century would have us believe otherwise. Ever since the Victorians, there’s been a certain vein running through futurism which is—in a word—vain. The future should be much more *perfect*, says the old saw, than this compromised existence we are forced to live. Too easily, I think, we see technology’s shiny smooth newness and forget how soon it becomes normal, earthly, taken for granted, exploited by some, a boring job to others, and then it’s all old news. That’s why, dear futurists, the iPhone brings us not all that closer to the Singularity. It’s just another thing that we use, that we have, but now it costs only $199.

Which is really what this is all about. It’s about me being tempted to buy the newest and shiniest thing. The iThing. This isn’t about Apple, by the way; it’s about the world. Because here’s the important bit: I don’t mind any of the stranger-alienating, idleness-exterminating, or fishbowl-inhabiting. I don’t find them to be inherently bad. They’re simply facts of life, much as those people on public transit who sometimes happen to be absolutely crazy. I like the idea of choosing whom and what I interact with, instead of just right-place-right-time interactions, and who cares if they take us in the right direction, so long as it’s a step forward. Keep walking to find the way. You’ve heard that all futurists are proven wrong eventually? Enjoy that fact, cause we’re each and every one of us going to be wrong.

Enjoy the renaissance of whatever happens to be momentarily blooming. Daydreams are your friends. Of course, your friends are your friends, too. Remember that the ‘i’ isn’t a pronoun. You’re not alone in life—even if sometimes you want to be. The future is unwritten. At least, that’s what I predict.

Little Big Name was immensely helpful in compiling the following list of domains… I mean, uh, “web names” which, if I were writing this particular post in a search-engine-friendly way, might be typed out “dough-manes”. But I don’t need strangers nabbing my ideas this time, so I’ll be as subtle as possible and password-protect it for now. I am considering these little domains for use with Get Shorty, a roll-your-own url shortener—therefore, the ideal is for them to be as petite as possible.

What’s odd about most of these versus, say, the rest of the 2-letter names on the internet is that not only are they available, but they’re under $30. Let’s just imagine:

  • (fact – but just looks like “fat C”)
  • (are your ducts old-fashioned? – sadly, taken)
  • (let’s see – clever, but taken)
  • (flagged – mm… too many letters)
  • (nagged – nag me with some links)
  • (egged – if I were a chicken farmer)
  • (hugged – I hugged this site good)
  • and (can’t have one without the other)
  • (salvage – SOLD since I started writing!)
  • (ravage – a fierce name for a fierce… hobby)
  • (foraged – like the small woodland creature you are)
  • (say bon voyage! to vowels)

What a bunch! Of course, the big problem is that I can’t buy them all, park them on default keyword-generated ad pages, and… have something happen… then, profit! I hear that’s a popular thing to do now. I’ll be damned if I’ll let the internet not have anything good on it. We’ll show ’em.

Dawkins Envy

It’s easy to be misled when you want to believe. That’s the lesson that Richard Dawkins is here to teach us today.

I like Richard Dawkins. He’s a hard-working man, a man with strong beliefs and ideas and principles. He’s written many books on evolution and its related genera. He also coined the word “meme” way back in 1976. And, apparently, he’s a blogger. But who has time to read blogs anymore though, honestly? So I was pretty thrilled thee days ago when I discovered his now six-day-old account on Twitter. Finally! I can follow the day-to-day musings of a bona fide scientist, one who’s books I’ve actually read, from the comfort of a corner of my monitor’s real estate.

The rest of Twitter was pretty happy too. It’s one of those things where @hrheingold tells @tyrsalvia and she tells me and @sfslim hears it from both of us, from whom @Kalli hears it, and before long everyone within shouting distance knows that Dr. Dawkins is enjoying poached salmon with Hollandaise sauce and a nice chardonnay. The magic of the modern age.

It made me imagine a smart uncle who gives sweet and worldly advice, like what I read about two hours ago:

While I still have 1700 of you paying attention, I just wanted to say: Whatever you believe, respect others beliefs. It’s not wrong to be kind to people who don’t believe the same as you. You don’t have to be militant atheists. People who claim to be Christians can be hypocrites, but they’re just people, and all people make mistakes. Try to be good to one another. That is my message of peace to all of you. Love one another. It’s ok.

Things could’ve just left off there. What nice sentiment, if… uncharacteristic. But it went on… Oh dear, but it had to go on…

Here My Imagination

Couple days ago, I registered How awesome is that!? Today, I don’t have it. Just in case you happen to be reading this and somehow don’t know how large an internet nerd I am, I am a large internet nerd. This would be a life achievement. Matt Mullenweg, creator of WordPress, owns the singular and unavoidably memorable He inspired me to try. See what he did? He’s didn’t get a .com (cause he’s not a company), nor a .org (he’s not an organization) and not a .name neither (cause anyone who registers anything with that domain is a sucker). Those .coms, .orgs, and .names are collectively called Top Level Domains, or TLDs, and there’s a lot of them. Most of them are for countries, which have the privilege of using only two letters. Every .tv and .fm you’ve ever been to? They’re actually licensed from Tuvalu and, yes, the Federated States of Micronesia (which, interestingly, has one and only one FM radio station1). But how did Matt happen to luck upon a .tt? It’s the assigned country code (ccTLD) domain for Trinidad and Tobago. He paid $500 a year for it. Yikes. It’s their ccTLD; they can charge whatever they want. That clever little trick of using both sides of the dot is known as a domain hack, and they’re pretty neat. Not only does it save on typing, it’s more memorable, simple yet exotic, and… well, special. What web-addict doesn’t dream of having the coolest dot-anything? I do. This was actually the latest big disappointment in a string of small ones.

It started slowly, last December, with a single, simple, unanswered, email…


Odd to think there’s a whole country of them. Well, I mean, I’m sure there’s not a whole country full of them who can sing like Le Mystère des Voix Bulgares, but still… the music is fascinating. It was when I went to see them perform at Grace Cathedral on May 28th.

I couldn’t tell you exactly where we sat (as Lynae decided to come at the last minute), it’d be the front row of the back section (apse?), carefully behind the singers… my architectural jargon isn’t up to spec. Nor could I try and easily explain how I became interested in this specific musical niche, the convoluted methods that I useta employ finding listening material. I can’t even tell you what I heard… not would I care to try and learn (then explain) what modal scales or dissonant harmonies are.

I found a recording that might possibly clarify. At right, the group sings one of our less sophisticated American folk songs. The harmonies are totally off, aren’t they? Not off, just… odd. They’re of a different logic. The mentality is different. Sitting there, listening to song after song and having a different internal experience each time, I envisioned mountain landscapes where women signal to each other over vast distances. The microtonalities made sense, because doesn’t a nuanced emotion deserve expression as much as a powerful one?

Dressed in their traditional outfits for the first half, they were a little too precious. I waved at one of the resting soloists and she waved back—just in time for me to bashfully turn my head. These were Bulgarians! How many times had I listened to them on my iPod on the subway? And here they were in their delightful little Bulgarian costumes! The second half was much better for me; dressed in formal blackwear, coven-esque, it became only about the music and less about the novelty of having an ethnic experience (for an ethnic group, I might add, that I’ve personally checked in to stay at a hostel where I worked).

It was surprisingly immersive; songs were in a different scale for hours afterward. It was a joyful way to break out of that subway. It made something which had become just “one more thing I’m into” and made it “something I’ve done.” It was a good thing to spend fifty bucks on.


Goodbye, old roommate. Hello new roommate. Oh! Hello, second new roommate.

Jerome got his bed yesterday. He was sleeping on the couch before that. He was sleeping in our apartment because he’ll be staying with us the next three months. Three months! This is Jerome (and this is Jerome en English). He is Quebecois, from Quebec City. An international traveler extraordinaire, he planned a three-month internship as a Mac developer, not to mention found a place to stay (with me), completely through Gmail. That’s impressive.

Jerome, meet Rhiannon. She’s our roommate—as of two weeks ago. Yup. She had to move three times in the past two months to find a place as good as ours. She’s planning on settling down and having some action figures. We met her at Bad Movie Night and kept coming back, long enough to make friends with the girl taking our $5 every week. Now it’s free for us. You can come too, Jerome, and be subjected to the horror that is “I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry.” It’s ok, though! It didn’t actually win any Razzies, so that means it must be a good movie.

Nice to finally introduce you two. This place isn’t the cleanest in the world, now that our former roommate is gone. She sure liked that cleaning. So there’s some Dr. Pepper boxes that are being saved for no reason. We’ve got extra couches, now (not sure what to do with those). I’ll be the first to admit that there’s too many open projects to count. Expect things to be in unlikely places, like my hats on the couch or network cable strung up in the hallway. It’s a creative disorder, a constantly brewing ferment of materials and activities and ideas all swirling around in too small a space for their own good. Welcome.

Three Ideas

Idle in-brain conversations. Background noise that rambles on and sometimes if we’re lucky goes somewhere. I was sitting eating a burrito the other day. This noise went somewhere; what do yo think?

1st idea: Evolution. Selection. The world of man. A species’ environment determines which genes are favored. It determines what genes stick around. In humans, self-determined environment (society) is usually more important than the natural world. So there’s a feedback loop. People create their environment, which favors people who can better live in it, and have children who continue to live a life to which they are suited. A possible genetic tendency towards cultural aspects. Accelerated specialization. Patterns within a culture and the ensuing sexual selection might explain geographic racial features. How an individual deals with turmoil and struggle is tied with one’s spiritual beliefs. We can have a culture that shapes its gods a certain way, and people within it who adhere to those gods. Feedback. Some concept emerges somewhere, spreads through society, and favors those predisposed to it. Or it might find more fertile minds somewhere else, and the seeds will grow elsewhere. Memetics influencing genetics. For instance, Greece no longer is made of Greeks, but ethnic Turks. Yet in academia, a major in Classics might as well be called “European Studies.” Through the influence of ideas their values live on in a populace both inheriting them and built to inherit them.

2nd idea: Predation. Digestion. Nature’s law. Organisms get better nutrition from sources closest to themselves. Carnivores spend less time eating than herbivores do, because it’s more work digesting plant fibers than animal protein. Go back far enough and all organisms are theoretically related. Life was just self-replicating bacteria. A few billion years later some became Eukaryotes, which are distinguished by their ability to eat other things (like bacteria). Everything that grew from them—animals, plants, fungi—inherited the capacity to derive sustenance from other life. The more alike, the easier that is.

3rd idea: I find those two ideas I just had quite interesting. I wonder if I can link them together. Let’s see.. they’re both centered around evolution and assimilation. Things diverge over countless years and then re-absorb quickly, converging like long-lost puddles. If they were puddles of oil and water they wouldn’t come together so easily. It’s about how easy it is. How easy it is to assimilate something is directly correlated to how similar it is. There’s my topic sentence.

Hm. That was interesting. Those idle thoughts led somewhere. Even if it turns out there’s an existing scientific theory that says about as much, it’s fun to derive these concepts myself. I do recommend trying it sometime.

photos by cwiener08 and rusty shackelfurt